Prof. Roth and the legend of the "Fluchschwein"

 

25 years at RWTH: Farewell to Prof. Roth

Prof. Roth Copyright: Crystallography

After a quarter of a century at the RWTH, you have entered retirement on 1.8.2020. If you look back on these 25 years in Aachen, what were your personal high and lowlights?


I can push myself - half-elegantly - to answer this question, because only FAST 25 years have been achieved. And that's how it came about: Actually, I was supposed to succeed Mr. Woermann in the teaching and research field "Applied Crystallography and Mineralogy" at sose 1995 - at least that was the plan. Until someone in the administration noticed that the state of NRW had once again imposed a budget freeze, combined with a staffing freeze - that was then part of the "NRW folklore". So I then represented myself in the SoSe and officially only entered the services of the RWTH at the WiSe 1995/96. What then - FAST 25 years later - brought me around the silver watch as an anniversary gift. After i had complained to the rector about this in this regard, he meant to comfort me by the fact that there was no silver watch at the RWTH anyway, but a rather negligible amount of money for staff in the C or W grades.
I then resumed the bad habit with the representations semi-voluntarily: In total, I represented the chair of crystallography for 11 years – but without official appointment or additional pay. I leave it to you to put this in the drawers "Highlight" or "Lowlight" now.

After completing her mineralogy diploma at the University of Münster in 1980, she received her doctorate in 1985 and a habilitation at the University of Marburg in 1993. What were your reasons for following a scientific career path at the time and would you do it again today?


Hm! I believe the sheer curiosity! But perhaps we should first of all keep the terms "scientific career path" and "university career" apart: I was a scientist at the time at the Nuclear Research Center Karlsruhe (then research center Karlsruhe, "Kern" was "igitt" at some point, today it is called KIT) and had there a lot of freedom and significantly more resources (apparative, financial and above all time) for research than at the beginning at the university. I did the habilitation because I had been giving lectures on neutron scattering in Marburg for a long time and the official award of the teaching authority was somehow the next logical step – frankly without any concrete career plans.
The answer to your question in short: Scientific career: Yes! Anytime back! Academic career as a university lecturer: Don't know! Doesn't have to! The problem is that, as our scientific system is knitted today, there are hardly any permanent jobs for scientists outside the "professor's rail" and therefore young people have no choice at all.

After the departure of Prof. Heger, the Institute of Crystallography was shrunk from two to one professorship in 2009. A phenomenon that can be observed not only in Aachen. How do you see the future perspectives of crystallography as a so-called "small subject"?


Yes: in the field of "small subjects" there is a research centre which deals with the situation of small but (at least in self-perception) efficient subjects and which also collects statistical figures on the development of small subjects. Crystallography - as well as mineralogy and paleontology - were (and are) "in the lead" throughout Germany for many years in terms of the dismantling of professorships and the closure of institutes – in good company with subjects such as "Indo-Germanistics" and "History of Medicine". I once referred to this statistic as an "academic death register" – he did not find that funny and he - not without justification - said that the federal states and universities were already responsible for the preservation of the small subjects and not the research centre 'small subjects'. After all, unlike most other locations in Germany, crystallography in Aachen has not shrunk to zero. The fact that this worked in Aachen and that crystallography is again represented by a chair after 11 years is largely due to the support of the Aachen colleagues in the geosciences!

 

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Prof. Roth Copyright: MLZ Garching

As a PostDoc, you also worked at the Department of Materials Sciences at Stanford University in the United States in the mid-1980s. How important do you consider international networks in crystallography to be? What would you recommend to students and doctoral students who aspire to a scientific career in this regard?


First of all, the smaller the subject, the more important the international networking – I think that is trivial. And: Today, young people no longer need to explain the importance of experience abroad for a scientific career, which is much more self-evident today than "in my time". A post-doc stay at Stanford is hardly a unique selling point these days, but a longer and productive post-doc stay abroad is still very conducive - not to say necessary - for an academic career.

Crystallography is strongly involved in the RWTH profile area "Materials Science and Engineering" (MatSe) as well as in the Jülich Research Center. What future "emerging fields" do you see in the field of research in crystallography?


With the answer to this question, I could complete a lot of pages – you can't seriously want that! I try to keep it tight, but I'm clearly not very good at it:
Crystallography is a facet of solid state and material research – we crystallographers are of course convinced: an important facet! Often, however, those who use crystallographic methods to work on scientific questions do not primarily appear as crystallographers, and this is certainly part of the problem when it comes to the visibility and future of crystallography. Your question should therefore be extended to the question: What exciting future topics exist in the crystallographic solid-state sciences as a whole, and these range from material and geosciences to solid-state chemistry and physics to biology and medicine (keyword protein crystallography). I am not at all afraid that we could run out of exciting questions. Incidentally, I have always liked to "torture" the first-semester students of materials science in the ring lecture (which unfortunately does not exist in this form in the geosciences) with numerous examples of Nobel Prizes, which were directly related to crystallography - of course to "indicate" the interdisciplinary nature of our subject.
But crystallography is also very prominent for the development of methods and here some people say that we crystallographers are victims of our own success: We have refined our methods – especially in structural research by means of X-ray diffraction methods – and at the same time simplified them that the corresponding programs can now be operated (pardon) "by every Depp". I would be better off specifying the term "Depp" in this context – otherwise someone feels addressed!
But there are still plenty of exciting tasks for the development of methods in crystallography - beyond X-ray diffraction in the laboratory. For me, this includes in particular the development of methods and equipment for structural research atlarge-scale research institutions: The taxpayer is currently financing state-of-the-art research infrastructure such as synchrotron sources (e.B. Petra III in Hamburg), neutron sources (currently the new European neutron spallation source ESS is under construction in Lund, Sweden) and X-ray lasers (XFEL in Hamburg, also completely new). If we don't educate young people who can understand these methods and use them in a useful way, all the billions for the "hardware" will not help us at all. In my opinion, (crystallographic) music will continue to play in research with large devices in the future and we have successfully pursued this business in Aachen crystallography in the field of neutron scattering - within the limits of our possibilities.

Under the leadership of crystallography, the over-optionally conceived course of study in materials science was created. What ideas were behind this and would you rate the course as a success? What challenges will crystallographic training at the Aachen site face in the coming years?


The credit for setting up the Materials Science course is, of course, due to Mr Heger, who, together with a few other colleagues, managed to reconcile four faculties. Due to the special situation in Aachen, however, it was not consensual at that time to re-establish an institute or even a faculty for materials research – there were and still are too many institutions at the RWTH that could (and can) rightly complain about also conducting materials science. From an organisational point of view, this "free-floating" course of study is of course a challenge! Incidentally, as a "unique selling point" in the bachelor's degree, the course of study has a very clear focus (to the horror of many new students) on a broad knowledge in the basic subjects - also and especially in contrast to materials and economic engineering. In the Master's degree, he then benefits from the extensive range of material-related questions at RWTH and also the Jülich Research Centre. The usual scoffers say that the course has as many specializations as master's students.

The future of crystallographic teaching is similar to crystallographic research: crystallography is a link between disciplines and provides important foundations for other subjects in teaching. This is also appreciated by the "customers". Of course, it would be unhealthy if the subject were to be "exhausted" exclusively in teaching services. I had already pointed out the need to train young people who, for example.B competently, can handle the modern large-scale equipment research infrastructure. This would then be - as before - an example of the orientation of "own" students in crystallography. In my opinion, the challenge for crystallographic education is and remains precisely this multi-disciplinary approach: crystallography is "marginal" in each of the solid-state science disciplines, but at the same time it does not have the necessary size and significance to be able to exist completely independently as a course of study. I honestly do not know whether and how this situation can be changed so that crystallography becomes more visible and does not disappear into the orcus of the "little subjects". Perhaps this is one of the tasks for "the next generation"?

 

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The Fluchschwein Copyright: Lars Peters

What are your retirement plans? The Aachen crystallographers seem to be particularly attached to their field of expertise. Do you maintain crystallography in this tradition even after your retirement?


Yes! That might be true: presumably the "bad dropouts" are in the majority, but so are a lot of colleagues from other subjects. At the moment, there are still a number of final and doctoral theses for me that want to be supervised – so the commitments are only running out slowly and I find that quite pleasant. Honestly, however, I don't attach any increased importance to being carried out of my office one day with my feet ahead.
Beyond duty: Actually, extensive travel - without official excuses and without associated time pressure - was at the top of the ToDo list. This is not a valid option in these times, of course, and "travel" is therefore clearly down on the list of things I absolutely want to do in retirement (and will probably never do for the most part) at the moment. I do not want to discuss the list further.

In the Institute of Crystallography there is a so-called "curse pig". Could you please tell us what it is all about? Will the "curse pig" retire with you?


Oh! Yes: The curse pig! This stands for one of my many failed attempts at parenting: at some point, I was so annoyed that regular employees came to my office and scolded the stupidities of the world in general and the university in particular that I announced: "Next time, this word costs nen Euro." At one point, a small black ceramic pig stood on my desk with the inscription: Black Money. Meanwhile, the pig is estimated 40 cm long, 30 cm high and VERY thick. And thanks to the - despite the curse pig - unfortunately not at all underblown swearing and swearing (see above... "Our "fourth means") has developed into a veritable source of income: as a rule, enough money comes together to finance essential parts of our annual institute outing from "fourth funds". Casually, the list of forbidden expressions is dynamic and exists only in the head of the supreme pig herder – this is arch-authoritarian, but has turned out to be (economically) very useful. The same applies to the inclusion of RWTH-specific terms in the "list of prohibited words", such as.B.r.a. "Campus", "Carpe Diem", "SARA", "RWTH-online" etc.
Of course, on my last day of service (it was a Friday) - properly and loyally - I handed over the curse pig (including content) to the professor Lars Peters - it is simply too young for retirement. The pig even wears - hygienically correct - a mouth-nose cover. However, the same professor is said to have locked it in a cupboard in his office, according to rumours. That is why I am increasingly concerned about an adequate diet for the poor pig. All my hope now is "the next one".

Further information on Prof. Roth: https://www.ifk.rwth-aachen.de/go/id/jezuj